Over the last few years I’ve become involved in a tradition of sorts. A group of some friends from high school gather and we hang out together for a long weekend. We started this a few years ago. The first few times we met in northern Indiana at Kevin’s place and had a great time. This year, Scott invited us to hang out at his place in St. Louis over the Labor Day weekend. It’s a city I’ve spent a little time in over the years but this time I got a much deeper view and it was a lot of fun.
We had planned to spend the first day doing some biking downtown. We went down to the area around the Gateway Arch along the river. There is a long bike trail that goes up and down it for many more miles that we were willing to go. The miles we did bike held interesting sights…
The Great Inverted Catenary
…including this troll under a small pedestrian bridge
Of the most interest was the flood wall south of the arch. There was an event going on over the weekend called Paint Louis.
A 1.5-2 mile section of the flood wall is marked off and graffiti artists from all over come and put up their work.
We were there at the beginning so most of the artists were just getting started.
They have to paint over last year’s work first
The art stays up for a year and then they paint over it and do it again next year.
This last one is done my a St. Louis street artist/arborist named Phil Berwick. He is semi-famous in the area for that little character on the left he calls Merferd. I found a pretty interesting article about Berwick and the local street artist community.
You can take a look at a lot more of the Paint Louis art on this image search.
A Tale of Two Cities
In the evening we had a couple of things planned. The first was an promotional event for a liquor company with free food. We didn’t know much more than that but admission was free also so why not, eh?
Well, we rolled up to the place around 5:30 or so and make our way to the front and it became quickly apparent that we are the only white people in the place. The promoting, it seems, was primarily targeting the African American community.
I won’t lie, it was weird. I felt like an invader or something. It didn’t help that we were a little on the older side for the group also. I didn’t take any pictures. We stayed for a couple of hours and had a bit of fun.
Kevin, who is much more outgoing than I, did a lot of mixing and dancing and stuff.
I don’t much like parties to begin with so I mostly held back and tried to disappear. I generally feel like it’s good to get pushed out of my comfort zone and into new experiences on occasion so I’m glad we went.
After that we went to a completely different kind of place.
Milo’s Bocce Garden! This place was about as opposite as you can get. A bunch of white people lawn bowling. We had to wait for a while but we got a couple of games in before it closed at 11.
I find it strange and a little unnerving that I felt more comfortable at the second place even though I am almost certainly more politically aligned with the people at the former place. I think the main reason is that I get very uncomfortable when I don’t have the option of disappearing in the crowd. I found it easier to blend in at Mio’s place and be anonymous.
About 15 years ago or so I randomly picked up a book somewhere that fascinated me. It told of an ancient city of about a thousand years ago. During its heyday it was one of the largest cities in the world, on the same order as London’s population at the time.
The city thrived for about 300 years and was a center of trade and culture across a good portion of the North American continent. But then suddenly, in the 14th Century, a hundred years before the Europeans arrived, it just went away.
The people had no written language so we know almost nothing about them. Even the name of their city, Cahokia is not the name its people used. It is just what the indigenous residents called the ruins when the newly arriving Europeans asked about them. They knew nothing about those people or their city outside of vague legends.
That book, Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi, by Timothy Paukatat captured my imagination. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to visit the site. As it happens, it is right outside of St. Louis in Illinois. That’s where we spent our Sunday.
The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. There is a very nice (and very air conditioned) visitor center. But the best part for me was walking around the grounds.
One of the Twin Mounds
The city is laid out with a series of randomly placed mounds that are of several types. Round mounds used as burial sites, pointy topped ridge mounds served as boundary markers, and flat topped platform mounds that supported important buildings.
The biggest and most important platform mound is Monk’s Mound at the northern edge of the city.
Monk’s Mound as viewed from the main city plaza
It was 100 feet high and covered almost 14 acres. It is where the Chief’s house and all the most important structures were set.
It’s also a healthy climb, especially in 90+ degree weather
Mind you, this is an earthen mound, not a natural feature. All that dirt was carried there in baskets by thousands of people over dozens of years. And then they built structures on top of it.
From the top you get the King’s view of the city and the surrounding plains.
Looking down on the city
If you are ever traveling down I-70 near St. Louis and need a break from driving you should stop by. It was an awe-inspiring place.
Those were the highlights but much of the trip was taken up with simple time enjoying meals, drinks, Ted Drew’s frozen custard and reconnecting with old friends. Remembering times past and talking about what’s going on now.
Also, there were cats!
Sunny was particularly friendly
Klaus was a bit shy though
I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do things like this. And now that we’ve done this three times I guess it’s becoming a habit. We did talk about another one next year. This time in Seattle! I look forward to showing this group of friends my city.